Odacy Davis, Project Manager, Iwokrama and Ryan Benjamin, Community Researcher, NRDDB represented the Cobra Project at the 3rd International Congress on Biodiversity of the Guiana Shield held in Paramaribo Suriname from 5th – 8th August, 2013.
Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil are the six countries that constitute the Guiana Shield. The overall aim of the Congress is to provide an important forum for experts and community leaders of the region to share their experience and results of research on biodiversity, thus promoting regional integration through sound science and community exchange. The specific objective of the 3rd International Congress was to identify impacts of economic development within the Guiana Shield on the environment and to define measures to reach real green development within the region with special attention given to the rural communitie, their traditional lifestyle and extensive traditional knowledge.
The Congress commenced with an impressive opening ceremony showcasing the use of art and music to tell stories of protection and conservation of the environment and ecosystems. Former President of Guyana, Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo delivered the keynote address – he stressed the point that researchers, scientists and academia needed to (i) make their “messages” simple enough for the ordinary man to understand, (ii) include the involvement of young people in projects and research and (iii) utilize all social media to propel the message of conservation of the environment instead of just focusing on writing academic papers only.
During the Congress there were a number of special events including the presentation of Academic papers and posters, a workshop on Green Development, a symposium for traditional/indigenous communities, training session on Economic valuation of biodiversity, and a meeting on Gender and Biodiversity. In addition, universities and research organizations of the region were engaged in special meetings to promote cooperation. These sessions were held simultaneously. Mr. Michael Williams, Chairman of NRDDB, delivered a sterling presentation on the work of the North Rupununi District Development Board and how they organize to manage 16 indigenous communities – the Cobra project was mentioned in his presentation. Ryan Benjamin participated in this event.
Odacy Davis presented a COBRA paper on “Community-owned best practices for community conservation and development” – an example of fisheries in the North Rupununi, using the case study of NRDDB-Rewa Village Partnerships. The presentation outlined the aim, objectives, approaches and findings of the Cobra project. The system viability model and participatory research methods were explained as the main tools used in the documentation of the North Rupununi best practices. The paper presented showed the factors that have enabled the river community of Rewa Village to become an example of community-led biodiversity conservation and community enterprise. Specific emphasis was placed on the need for partnerships – in this case the community worked together with NRDDB and other donor institutions to realize their goals.Sustainable fisheries management is not simply a practice of species conservation for economic development, but is seen by the community as a means to maintain the survival of its people. Factors of success identified during this project included community involvement, participation, leadership and motivation. In closing the presentation, Odacy mentioned that the project will be sharing these North Rupununi best practices with other communities of the Guiana Shield and with a long-term goal of lobbying for the inclusion and recognition of community-owned solutions in policies, projects and process that deals with the sustainable development of local communities.
Ten minutes were allotted for the presentation and five minutes for questions and discussion. Participants inquired about the procedure for community engagement as well as the availability of best practice videos. Many participants embraced the participatory approach taken by the project. The Cobra Presentation was the first of nine presentations delivered under the sub theme ‘Community- based economic development and traditional knowledge” As a follow-up to the presentation both Odacy and Ryan used available opportunities to met with individuals to share on Cobra’ experiences. Participants from French Guiana, Brazil and Venezuela were expressed interest in the work package 5 – sharing of best practices component of the project.
During the congress the Cobra Team met with potential Suriname Wp5 partners Rachelle Bong A Jan of Attune Development and Laurens Gomes of WWF- Suriname to discuss the Cobra practitioner’s handbook, and approach for WP5 implementation in Suriname communities.
Prior to the congress, Odacy attended an interim steering committee meeting of the Guyana chapter of the International Biodiversity of Guiana Shield Society – to develop a strategy to lobby for the Guyana to host the 2016 Congress. A concept paper was prepared and submitted to the IBG General Congress, which was successfully received and acknowledged on the final day of the congress. Guyana will now host the congress in 2016! The Cobra Project is pleased to be have participated in this process and will continue to support the Guyana local chapter in their plans host this prestigious event. Cobra Project has since notified the planning committee of its intention to share academic papers, community-owned best practices and lessons learned at the 2016 congress.
Exciting times ahead for Guyana and Biodiversity Conservation!